School Improvement in Maryland
English/Core Learning Goals

Composing in a variety of Modes and Forms

Compose to Inform: Under Development

Compose to Persuade: Under Development

Using Prose Forms: Prose forms are used when writing fiction and non-fiction. Sentences and paragraphs are the building blocks of all prose. Letters, essays, stories, most plays, position papers, and reports are examples of prose forms.

Using Poetic Forms: Poetic forms are those non-prose forms used to communicate. Although not all students will choose poetic forms to communicate, they should be aware of the distinguishing features of various poetic forms—blank verse, ballads, highly-constrained forms such as haiku—and be encouraged to explore composing in those forms.

Using a Writing Process

NOTE: The following writing process parts are discussed as separate “steps,” but are recursive and may be returned to in any order during the composing occasion. While they are discussed in terms of writing, they are equally appropriate when preparing oral and visual presentations.

Use Prewriting Strategies

High school students should be familiar with a variety of strategies to help them think of ideas to write about and begin to develop those ideas into a coherent plan for their composition. The students should be able to select effective strategies for various writings. They may choose to freewrite, use graphic organizers of various types, draw or sketch, make lists, use manipulatives (e.g., note cards, color-coded materials). While teachers may demonstrate particular prewriting strategies, high school students frequently choose those which are most comfortable to them personally, or which seem to them most appropriate for a particular writing occasion. Those choices should be honored and encouraged when they lead to productive writing.

Select and Organize Ideas

Once ideas have been generated, the most effective ones for the particular audience and purpose are selected for the particular writing occasion. Then, a particular organizing structure needs to be selected. Organizing structures include: placing ideas in order from most important to least, or least to most important, in chronological order, in spatial order, in journalistic format (i.e., summary of the most important information followed by additional information, documentation, examples).

Address Specific Audiences and Purposes

A very clear idea of what this composition is designed to accomplish and who it is being written for is critical. The more specific the purpose and audience, the more effective the composition will be. For instance, “writing for other teenagers” is less specific than “writing for other students in this high school who read the school newspaper.” In the same way, “wanting to entertain” is a less specific purpose than “presenting the trials and tribulations of finding your first paying job in an entertaining manner.” Choosing ideas to include in a composition and how to organize the composition effectively are influenced by the purposes for writing and the audience.

Revise for Clarity, Completeness, and Effectiveness

Revision is done in answer to these questions: Is my purpose for composing clear? Is the composition clear for the intended audience? Have unfamiliar words or concepts been explained clearly to the audience? What additional information is required to assist the reader, viewer, or listener in understanding my composition? When my composition is read, viewed, or heard, will the audience respond in an appropriate way? Revision requires that students bring to the task not only their knowledge and experience as writers, but also their knowledge and experience as readers.

Edit for Effective and Appropriate Use of Language and Conventions

Students need to bring “reader eyes” to the task of editing their revised work. Careful checking of language used in regard to word choice, spelling or pronunciation of the intended word, formatting, use of transitional words and phrases are all part of editing. Rather than focusing entirely on committing editing knowledge to memory, students need to become proficient in the use of resources available to them. Certainly, if they are composing on computers, use of spelling and grammar checks should be routine. Often those electronic checkers will bring up questions which require further resources to answer.

Identify Sources of Information

Information is gained from electronic, print, and human resources. One of the most powerful composition tools is supporting assertions. Assertions made for whatever rhetorical purpose are strengthened by support from a variety of purposes. Even the most personal response is strengthened by supported assertions.

Use a Systematic Process for Recording, Documenting, and Organizing Information

Advances in technology have made many documentation strategies of the past less effective than previously. However, the need to record, document, and organize information in a systematic way is as necessary now as it was in the past. With the easy availability of copy machines and information which can be printed directly from the computer whether located on CD ROM or the Internet, using summary note cards may not be as effective and efficient as other strategies like highlighting the copied page or electronically cutting and pasting the relevant information. However, the need to document the source of the information is still critical. Of course, information received from human resources also needs to be documented. Choosing one documentation style and providing a handy reference to the style for every student greatly enhances the likelihood of systematic documentation.

Selected Bibliography of Professional Readings

Atwell, Nancie, Side by Side: Essays on Teaching to Learn, Heinemann, 1991.

Smith, Frank, Writing and the Writer, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.

Monroe, Rick, Writing and Thinking with Computers: A Practical and Progressive Approach, NCTE, 1993.

Wills, Meredith Sue, Deep Revision: A Guide for Teachers, Students, and Other Writers, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 1993.

Yancy, Kathleen Blake, ed., Voices on Voice: Perspectives, Definitions, Inquiry, NCTE, 1994.